Rebecca Gould https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/7954/all cached version 18/01/2019 13:40:02 en We need principles, not rules, to fight antisemitism: the IHRA definition and the politics of defining racism https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/rebecca-ruth-gould/we-need-principles-more-than-rules-in-fight-against-antisemitism-on-ihra-definiti <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the heat of argument, too little has been said about the implications of defining racism for legal and quasi-legal purposes, or the difficulty of separating the two domains.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-26752662_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-26752662_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Labour anti-Semitism Inquiry chair Shami Chakrabarti speaks on Labour's anti-Semitism inquiry findings at Savoy Place, London, June, 2016. Jonathan Brady/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The definition of antisemitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in May 2016 and adopted soon thereafter by the UK government has been widely debated, first in the UK, and then across Europe and North America. The <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/antony-lerman/labour-should-ditch-ihra-working-definition-of-antisemitism-altogether">debate</a> has been accompanied by many heated discussions around what does and does not constitute antisemitism, particularly in connection with the definition’s adoption by the Labour Party in September 2018. Yet, in the heat of argument, little has been said about the implications of defining racism for legal and quasi-legal purposes, or about the difficulty of separating the two domains from each other.</p> <p>In August 2018, I published the first extended scholarly <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1743872118780660">critique</a> of the IHRA definition: “Legal Form and Legal Legitimacy: The IHRA Definition of Antisemitism as a Case Study in Censored Speech.” Because the article addressed a gap in the public debate, it received a great deal of attention from the leftist groups concerned about the negative effect that the definition was having on free speech as well as Palestinian advocacy. I was interviewed about the article in the <a href="https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/%E2%80%98labour-must-recognise-diversity-jewish-community-and-not-allow-political-faction-silence"><em>Morning Star</em></a><em>.</em> An abbreviated version of the argument appeared in <a href="http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/the-ihra-definitions-imprecision-makes-it-a-threat-to-free-speech"><em>Prospect</em></a>, and summaries were produced by <a href="https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/blog/the-ihra-document-a-scholarly-critique-of-its-effects/">Jewish Voice for Labour</a> and for the newsletter of the <a href="http://www.bricup.org.uk/documents/archive/BRICUPNewsletter125.pdf">British Committee for the Universities of Palestine</a>. These engagements further revealed to me just how much remains unresolved in the adjudication and application of the definition, notwithstanding the media’s tendency to simplify the issues at stake. &nbsp;</p> <p>Even though the debate around antisemitism within Labour seems to have subsided for the time being, the problem of antisemitism persists, within our society and globally. The recent <a href="https://blog.apaonline.org/2018/11/06/an-act-of-racist-terrorism/">antisemitic massacre</a> at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh offers horrific proof of the ongoing persistence of this prejudice in its most pernicious forms. </p> <p>Many of us would like to think that antisemitism is on the wane, but the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/29/us/anti-semitism-attacks.html">evidence</a> suggests the contrary. The evidence further suggests that antisemitism does not occur in isolation from other racisms. Robert Bowers, the perpetrator of the recent massacre, <a href="https://forward.com/fast-forward/412810/pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting-suspect-was-obsessed-with-hias/">hated</a> Jewish organisations like the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society because they were dedicated to helping immigrants and refugees. <span class="mag-quote-center">Robert Bowers, the perpetrator of the recent massacre, hated Jewish organisations like the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society because they were dedicated to helping immigrants and refugees.</span></p> <p>Such incidents reveal that antisemitism can only be effectively opposed through an approach that brings together the fight against all kinds of racism, including anti-immigrant prejudice. In the interests of taking preliminary steps in this direction, I offer here a summary of “Legal Form and Legal Legitimacy,” followed by further reflection on how scholars and activists can most effectively conceptualise antisemitism in our efforts to fight racism while opposing efforts to censor controversial speech. </p> <h2><strong>Quasi-legality</strong></h2> <p>“Legal Form and Legal Legitimacy” builds on recent work on legal indeterminacy by the Critical Legal Studies (CLS) movement, spearheaded by figures such as Duncan Kennedy. My concern in this case is not the indeterminacy within the law itself, but within the law’s relationship to the world it regulates. </p> <p>Recent applications of the IHRA definition illustrate this indeterminacy in amplitude. The indeterminacy that structures the implementation of the IHRA definition within the UK (and, following the US <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/us/politics/rutgers-jewish-education-civil-rights.html">appointment</a> of Kenneth Marcus to the position of Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights) traverses the legal and the non-legal, the semi-legal, and the quasi-legal. It is made manifest in the applications of this text and its examples, that propose to define antisemitism anew, and which have been cited in contexts as wide-ranging as <a href="https://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/interference2017/">university events</a>, media self-censorship, and political parties' codes of conduct. These applications illustrate how non-legal rules and regulations can have legal implications even when they lack the legitimacy that is conferred by parliamentary oversight and other forms of due process.</p> <p>“Legal Form and Legal Legitimacy” documents in detail the meaning of the IHRA document’s self-description as “legally non-binding,” the history of its application, and the legal dynamics bearing on its deployment in university contexts. These dimensions are made all the more contentious by its imprecise content and the significant ambiguity around its legal status. On the basis of the many ways in which the IHRA definition has been used to censor speech, particularly on university campuses, I show that the definition's proponents have not paid enough attention to the harms of censoring Israel-critical speech. <span class="mag-quote-center">I show that the definition's proponents have not paid enough attention to the harms of censoring Israel-critical speech.</span></p> <h2><strong>The IHRA definition as quasi-law</strong></h2> <p>I describe the IHRA definition as a quasi-law. By mimicking normative dimensions of legality, quasi-laws empower special interest groups to act as proxies for the state. These groups then pursue their agendas through threats of legal prosecution, borrowing from the coercive force of the law, even when the text on which they base their claims lacks democratic legitimacy. </p> <p>They target expressive content for censorship, while lacking a legal mandate. Although there are doubtless occasions in which the cumulative force of a quasi-law can have a positive ethical impact by highlighting certain forms of discourse as offensive, racist, or otherwise unethical, the case studies discussed in the article illustrate how recent applications of the IHRA document endanger our collective civil liberties. </p> <p>While “Legal Form and Legal Legitimacy” endeavours to offer a nuanced treatment of the philosophical, ethical, and legal dimensions of the new regulatory regime that attends criticism of Israel within the UK and the United States, my analysis overall argues for abandoning superfluous regimes of speech regulation&nbsp; – not only those which censor antisemitic or Israel-critical speech, but also those that target all forms of racism. I arrive at this view following evidence of an intrinsic propensity for civil liberties violations within <em>all</em> hate speech bans, including the IHRA definition. <span class="mag-quote-center">I arrive at this view following evidence of an intrinsic propensity for civil liberties violations within <em>all</em> hate speech bans, including the IHRA definition.</span></p> <p>The IHRA document offers a case study in the coercive effects of a quasi-legal norm. Whatever the intentions of its promoters and adopters, and partly due to the intrinsic imprecision of its content, this document has negatively impacted civil society. It has been particularly damaging to freedom of inquiry in university contexts. While my article describes specific violations of due process as well as questioning the substantive claims implicit in the IHRA’s examples of what constitutes antisemitism, my critique of this new antisemitism definition runs deeper. I am concerned with the dangers of formalizing quasi-legality itself, particularly in the context of efforts to counter racism. </p><p>The examples I discuss of censorship on university campuses highlight major issues attending the regulation of speech within liberal states. In line with my scepticism regarding the uses of hate speech bans in general, I contend that the IHRA document cannot effectively combat antisemitism in the public sphere. Somewhat in contrast to commentators who have persuasively&nbsp; contested the definition’s content, my argument against the definition's deployment is based on its ambiguous legal status, as well as on the indeterminate applications that arise from confusions regarding its legal status. <span class="mag-quote-center">My analysis overall argues for abandoning superfluous speech regulation regimes – and not only those which censor antisemitic or Israel-critical speech.</span></p> <h2><strong>Principles, not rules</strong></h2> <p>Much of the debate around the working definition has assumed that it is both possible and necessary to define antisemitism definitively for all times and places. Deviation from a perceived consensus has been a dominant theme on all sides. Like legal positivists, proponents of the working definition assume the verifiability of antisemitism allegations with the same vigour that their opponents refute these implications. Whether they support or seek to refute it, most of those engaged in the debate treat the proposed working definition as a rule in the sense described by legal philosopher H.L.A. Hart, while obviating the need to root the rule of what antisemitism is taken to be in broader principles so as to enable structural critique. </p> <p>The overwhelming focus on rules in the debate around the IHRA definition has politicised and polarised the contemporary debate around antisemitism and furthered its conflation with Israel-critical speech. Given the widely accepted view of the need for a definition alongside the absence of principled discussion, it is worth considering what a principled (rather than rule-based) definition of antisemitism might look like in light of the alternatives that have been proposed. <span class="mag-quote-center">It is worth considering what a principled definition of antisemitism might look like in light of the alternatives that have been proposed.</span></p> <h2><strong>A principled definition</strong></h2> <p>A <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jun/15/we-must-define-antisemitism-to-fight-it-effectively">letter published in <em>The Guardian</em></a> in the summer of 2018 (during the height of the controversy around antisemitism in the Labour Party), signed by the renowned human rights silk Geoffrey Bindman QC and a range of other prominent Jewish intellectuals, offers a promising alternative to more politicized definitions. Although – even after its <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jul/06/steps-towards-defining-antisemitism">further endorsement</a> – this alternative definition did not circulate as widely as did the IHRA text during the tumultuous summer of 2018, the text of the letter signed by Jewish intellectuals is superior to the more controversial working definition on multiple grounds. The aspects relevant to the rule of law that make it a better definition include 1) the relation it inscribes between specificity and generality in the adjudication of context; 2) the hermeneutical limits it places on the scope of its <em>interpretation</em>; and 3) the procedural limitations it places on the scope of its <em>application. </em>In future work, I will show how these aspects of the alternative definition offer a surer path for combating antisemitism than does the IHRA definition. </p> <p>Since the appeareance of "Legal Form and Legal Legitimacy," I have received helpful critiques from legal scholars (in particular from <a href="http://southsquare.com/barristers/riz-mokal/">Riz Mokal</a>) who have suggested that my account of legal indeterminacy in connection with the IHRA may have given too much credence to CLS, given the critiques that have been waged against the CLS approach to indeterminacy in the decades since they were first formulated in the 1970s. </p> <p>It has been suggested that I take on board the approach of the legal theorist Ronald Dworkin, who famously sought to <a href="http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674072251">reconcile legality and morality</a> in his account of adjudication. At stake in the debate between Dworkin and CLS is the question, not only of how we define racism, but of whether racism can be defined in a determinate fashion, and the legal and moral consequences of adopting such definitions. If we determine that racism can be defined, not just in the abstract for all possible groups but also for specific vulnerable communities, such as Jews, Muslims, and people of colour, the issue of how to most effectively implement such definitions without endangering the minority voices within those minorities still remains unresolved. </p> <h2><strong>Political co-existence</strong></h2> <p>Serious conversation around the complex politics of defining racism issues has hardly begun. As the increasing number of free speech violations, frequently linked to the <a href="https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/08/29/smith/j5F9Mf4ZqPohu4oxC6stTP/story.html">often-inflated rhetoric around hate speech</a> demonstrates, we have not yet learned how to protect vulnerable minorities while also protecting controversial speech. A detailed critique of the abusive implementation of texts such as the IHRA definition can offer a useful starting point, but it would be premature to reach any conclusions. The point most worth making at this stage is simply that we should proceed with caution. Every time our governments, our universities, and our employers censor an Israel-critical statements or ban forms of expression that some members of a minority group find offensive but which other members of that same group do not, we come that much closer to undermining the democratic foundations of the society within which we live, and thereby of compromising the terms of our political coexistence. </p> <p>In connection with massacres such as the one that occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue, it has been suggested that the suspension of free speech to protect vulnerable minorities is justified. No one who cares seriously about fighting racism would dismiss this argument without first giving it careful consideration. Before determining whether or not the suspension is justified or helpful to the fight against racism, we would need to show how censorship reduces prejudice or how the banning of certain modes of expression protects Jews from harm. When the state censors without considering the effects of such censorship on freedom of speech, then it harms the very groups it seeks to protect. It generates divisions within communities (around, for example, the definition of antisemitism) and further entrenches unequal distributions of power, while limiting democratic representation. <span class="mag-quote-center">Nuanced analysis… has been sacrificed to political rhetoric that considers only short-term gains. </span></p> <p>In connection with recent discussions of the IHRA definition within the UK, the nuanced analysis that is urgently needed if we are to tackle these problems has been sacrificed to political rhetoric that considers only short-term gains while neglecting long term effects and suppressing dissident voices within and outside the community targeted for protection.</p> <h2><strong>A personal reckoning</strong></h2> <p>I will end by noting the circumstances of my own entanglement with this issue. In the Spring of 2017, an <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228322693_Beyond_Anti-Semitism_2011_written_in_Bethlehem_Palestine--not_entirely_reflective_of_my_current_thinkingapproach_but_keeping_here_as_an_historical_document">article</a> that I wrote in 2011 became the subject of controversy when an organisation that promotes the IHRA definition organised a campaign against me, and advocated (unsuccessfully) for my dismissal from my university. As I conferred with scholars of antisemitism in an effort to better understand what was happening, it became evident to me just how much was being lost in the heat of debate and the pressure from multiple sides for various organisations, universities, and political parties to adopt the definition. </p> <p>During the course of my travails, I have had the good fortune to work closely with the definition’s original author, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_S._Stern">Ken Stern</a>. I am eternally grateful to Stern for his support and solidarity with me amid the campaign to suppress my freedom of expression and to coerce my conscience into retracting the Israel-critical statements I made in the past, and which I stand by today. <span class="mag-quote-center">During the course of my travails, I have had the good fortune to work closely with the definition’s original author, Ken Stern.</span></p> <p>Stern’s solidarity with me was based not on agreement around the issue of Israel/Palestine – this was a matter we never discussed, though it was obvious that we occupy opposite sides of the debate – but on mutual respect for freedom of speech, and for its role in a democratic society, and for the importance of academic freedom to the functioning of any university. I was also struck by the fact that the very groups that were campaigning most aggressively for the adoption of the IHRA definition within the UK refused to consider the <a href="https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Stern-Testimony-11.07.17.pdf">wise cautions</a> issued by Stern, the antisemitism expert who years ago had furnished them with the very text that they were uncritically promoting.</p> <p>The IHRA document stipulates that allegations of antisemitism should be evaluated ‘taking into account the overall context.’ Yet my 2011 article, written while&nbsp;working in an apartheid state and living in the West Bank, witnessing daily discrimination against my Palestinian neighbors, and&nbsp;recognising&nbsp;my own complicity in this discriminatory regime, first and foremost as a US citizen and taxpayer, and secondarily as a recipient of an Israeli fellowship, was radically decontextualized by the British media in 2017. </p> <p>In my critique of the occupation, I drew on discourses that were being heatedly discussed within the Israeli society that I inhabited. It was a text full of anger towards the world I inhabited every day, anger at my complicity in its injustices.&nbsp;</p> <p>When I write about Palestine today within the UK, it is for a predominantly Anglophone audience. Discourses internal to Israeli civil society have less relevance. The erasure of the Palestinian – as well as Israeli – context from the controversy around my 2011 article continues to disturb me. To the extent that I remain silent concerning the dangers posed by the adoption of the IHRA definition, I am complicit in this silencing. </p> <p>The controversy that I came to know first-hand inhte spring of 2017 raises the question of what is the appropriate context for evaluating any text? Do we prioritise the world in which it is written or in which it is read? When we do the latter, we risk silencing Palestinian and Israeli perspectives, and we alienate ourselves from the very context that most urgently needs to be addressed. </p> <p>This incident further reveals how the polarised discourse around Israel/Palestine today, particularly in the US and the UK, guarantees that no application of the IHRA document can avoid extreme politicization. A principled, rather than a rule-based approach, is a more effective means of tackling this issue.&nbsp; We are better off relying on principles, of the sort developed by Dworkin for shaping and guiding our political lives, rather than allowing ourselves to be bound and shackled by legal positivism’s rules. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>See <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1743872118780660">Legal Form and Legal Legitimacy: The IHRA Definition of Antisemitism as a Case Study in Censored Speech</a> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/moran-mandelbaum/do-we-need-legal-definition-of-anti-semitism">Do we need a (legal) definition of anti-Semitism?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/antony-lerman/labour-should-ditch-ihra-working-definition-of-antisemitism-altogether">Labour should ditch the IHRA working definition of antisemitism altogether</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brian-klug/code-of-conduct-for-antisemitism-tale-of-two-texts">The Code of Conduct for Antisemitism: a tale of two texts</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/rebecca-gould/felon-voting-rights-and-democracy">Felon voting rights and democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/rebecca-gould/love-without-monogamy">Love without monogamy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk Can Europe make it? uk United States EU UK Rebecca Gould Mon, 19 Nov 2018 08:58:12 +0000 Rebecca Gould 120543 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Love without monogamy https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/rebecca-gould/love-without-monogamy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Expanding the meaning of marriage beyond heterosexual relations captures the spirit of the times but misses the pulse of the future.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/RebeccaGould.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM_j-ifP9Lg">https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM_j-ifP9Lg</a>.</p> <p>We live in a monogamous age. But with the demise of the nuclear family and the increasing recognition that is being granted to alternative sexualities, that age is slowly coming to an end. I think that’s a very good thing.</p> <p>In <a href="http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf">Obergefell v. Hodges</a>, the historic ruling that legalized gay marriage across the United States in 2015, US Supreme Court Justice <a href="http://www.biography.com/people/anthony-kennedy-9362868">Anthony Kennedy</a> revealed the prejudice in which even the most liberal public discourses about sexuality remain enmeshed when he concluded that “No union is more profound than marriage.”</p> <p>Justice Kennedy’s words, which were <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/06/26/supreme_court_legalizes_gay_marriage_here_is_the_beautiful_last_paragraph.html">widely praised in the popular press</a>, captured the spirit of the times but missed the pulse of the future. The&nbsp;Supreme Court’s expansion of the meaning of marriage beyond heterosexual relations was a step in the right direction, but the real triumph for men and women alike will come when marriage as we currently know it is allowed to co-exist with more plural understandings of love. </p> <p>Many unions are more profound than marriage, including the forms of heterosexual and homosexual love that marriage often validates. Love precedes marriage, and in a non-monogamous world it will not require the validation of the state.</p> <p>In a non-monogamous world, courtship rituals will become less codified than they are now, and women will become equal partners with men in the search for love. They will enjoy the same flexibility as men do with regard to sexual relations, and men will feel less pressured to define themselves as all the things that women are not.</p> <p>Although we are trained to think of monogamy as an institution that benefits women, it is worth remembering that monogamy evolved along with patriarchy as a means of insuring the integrity of the nuclear family—of keeping the wife at home and the husband at work. Monogamy is an essential component of a patriarchal society. We can’t undo patriarchy without displacing monogamy.</p> <p>In a non-monogamous world, women will not squander their lives in seeking for the perfect man. Intimacy will be an ever-present possibility, and the biological clock won’t define a woman’s life trajectory since the concept of the family will be less bound to biological reproduction. It will be harder to conflate love with ego, and more difficult to use others to hide from ourselves when we no longer require our intimate others to be extensions of who we are.</p> <p>Differences between men and women will become less regimented and people will be free to identify with the gender that most suits them in any given moment.&nbsp;&nbsp;A non-monogamous world will offer less security. We will not be able to take our partners for granted as we do now. We will not stay with our lovers simply from the fear of being left alone.</p> <p>When monogamy is seen as an aberration rather than the norm, hypocrisy will have less room to fester. Honesty will no longer be shoved to the margins where it exists today, causing us to lie to ourselves and others about what we really want in life. People will lie for other reasons, and in other ways, perhaps no less insidiously than before, but at least some of the old lies will be washed away.</p> <p>In a non-monogamous society, new arrangements will have to be made for raising children. We will have to think more seriously about adoption than ever before, as a preferred method for raising children rather than a measure of last resort. The implications for social justice are clear: for the first time in history, children’s lives will not be wholly determined by the families into which they are born.</p> <p>As Bertrand Russell pointed out in his unjustly forgotten masterpiece&nbsp;<em><a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=pQV5AgAAQBAJ&amp;dq=Marriage+and+Morals&amp;source=gbs_navlinks_s">Marriage and Morals</a></em>, social institutions such as schools now do much of the work, and provide much of the education, that used to be left entirely to the family. In premodern societies, the continuity and integrity of the family was an absolute necessity because there were few institutions aside from the church to which children who lacked a strong family network could turn for support. So monogamy, Russell argued, had much more justification, and was more necessary to the social good, than it is today. </p> <p>Non-monogamy will not suit everyone. But for the many who find their lives and sexual orientations excluded from monogamous society at present, it offers a welcome alternative. </p> <p>Around the turn of the twentieth century, many of the most forward-thinking women writers experimented with non-monogamy in their intimate lives. Think of <a href="https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/02/22/edna-st-vincent-millay-polyamory-love-letters/">Edna St. Vincent Millay</a>, <a href="https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/goldman/works/1914/marriage-love.htm">Emma Goldman</a>, <a href="http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2016/03/09/a-thing-that-wants-virginia/">Virginia Woolf, and Vita Sackville-West</a>, for example, and also <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/19/polyamorous-women-simone-de-beauvoir-open-relationship-jean-paul-sartre">Simone de Beauvoir</a> and <a href="http://spartacus-educational.com/TUrussellD.htm">Dora Russell</a> (Bertrand Russell’s wife). Katie Roiphe, in her <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ReQAX0TBv4gC&amp;dq=Uncommon+Arrangements:+Seven+Marriages&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwis76aohNbNAhVpGZoKHR57BegQ6AEIHjAA">study of Bloomsbury Movement marriages</a>, adds several other examples from this same milieu. It is not coincidental that these female non-monogamists confined most of their experiments to lesbian relations, since it was more difficult for women of that time, as it remains in our own, to practice heterosexual non-monogamy in public ways. </p> <p>Meanwhile, male writers were left free to practice heterosexual non-monogamy however they pleased, not always with the full consent of the women with whom they were involved. Such forms of monogamy were socially unjust, and shaped by patriarchal norms just as monogamy is today. Although my examples of non-monogamous relations come from the first decades of the twentieth century, when we compare the biographies of Millay, Goldman, Woolf, Sackville-West, de Beauvoir, and Russell to the contemporary lives of women it appears that not much has changed in terms of sexual norms and the freedom that is (not) accorded to women who live non-conventional lives.&nbsp; </p> <p>Non-monogamy is a path to multiple possibilities. It is monogamy that is pathologically singular and grossly unimaginative in imagining the full range of human intimacy. To break free from this confinement we must seek alternatives to the monogamic norm. We must resist the impulse to be monolithic and exclusive, to be unrealistic and to live under the shadow of our lies. We must do this even if we wish to remain with the same partner for the rest of our lives.</p> <p>Non-monogamy isn’t perfect, but it is better than monogamy for those whose lives are devoted to a cause, who seek partners to inspire them rather than pillows on which to rest their heads, and who value truth over conformity and love over convention.</p> <p>As yet, non-monogamy has not received the legal recognition it deserves. <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/japp.12240/full">Polyamory</a> is a freakish term, an aberration with no legal standing and an eyebrow-raising neologism. Non-monogamy is increasingly debated in the public sphere, and has become a frequent <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=h8WLAgAAQBAJ&amp;dq=meg+barker+non-monogamy&amp;source=gbs_navlinks_s">subject of scholarly debate</a>, yet it lacks a name. It remains a negative identity, defined against the monogamous norm. </p> <p>Given its commitment to reimagining sexual politics, feminism ought to have taught us how to break free from monogamy’s laws. It ought to have given us a name for an emotionally robust and sexually fulfilling non-monogamous life. But so far it has failed to live up to this mandate.</p> <p>Non-monogamy will generate new difficulties—as it has throughout human history—but on balance men and women will both be better off when they are free to explore their sexuality with multiple partners, outside the bonds and illusions, the oppressive and self-defeating expectations that are fostered by monogamy’s law.</p> <p>Non-monogamy is not a panacea for the world’s woes, but we all stand to gain from its embrace. Both individuals and societies will benefit when legal, social and political recognition is extended to the full range of ways of loving and desiring others, outside of the bonds, illusions, and self-defeating expectations that are fostered by monogamy. </p> <p>This proposal may come across as utopian, especially coming from someone whose life has been a series of more or less unsuccessful monogamous relationships. However, the world is coming to recognize that monogamy is overdue for transfiguration. It is premature to predict the forms of social and sexual intimacy that may emerge in the wake of that critique. But if they are feminist, progressive, and non-heteronormative, then it follows that they will also be non-monogamous, albeit in many different ways.</p> <p>A non-monogamous society won’t bring immediate or even long-term happiness to everyone, but it will bring greater freedom and openness to the many of us whose life options are limited by monogamy’s domination.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/anni-liu/say-yes-to-decolonial-love-five-ways-to-resist-oppression-in-your-relationsh">Decolonial love: five ways to resist oppression in your relationships</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/mark-greene/ugly-and-violent-death-of-gender-conformity">The ugly and violent death of gender conformity</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/edgar-rodriguez/theres-more-to-being-gay-than-anal-penetration">There&#039;s more to being gay than anal penetration</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation same-sex marriage Rebecca Gould Culture Intersectionality Love and Spirituality Mon, 15 Aug 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Rebecca Gould 104749 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A Singapore Ramayana: academic freedom and the liberal arts curriculum https://www.opendemocracy.net/rebecca-gould/singapore-ramayana-academic-freedom-and-liberal-arts-curriculum <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Could Singaporeans of the future do a better job at making democracy a reality than America’s elected leaders have done for the past half-century? Maybe, if one of the most important literary works of premodern India is taught again at the recently created Yale-NUS in Singapore.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>In August of this year, I was seated in a reception hall in the National University of Singapore (NUS), listening to Pratap Mehta, an influential voice in Indian higher education, reflect on the successes and failures of the recent endeavors in the subcontinent to promote the liberal arts at the undergraduate level. At dinner the evening before I had mentioned to the speaker that the humanities faculty at Yale-NUS had decided to teach the Indian epic known as the <em>Rāmāyaṇa</em> as the inaugural text in our Literature Humanities core curriculum. </p> <p>Yale-NUS is a new liberal arts college in Singapore, created by the two institutions that bear its name. It is scheduled to convene its first class of students in August 2013. In August of 2012, the humanities faculty had just embarked on the work of planning the college’s core curriculum. During his presentation to the college community, Mehta noted that the <em>Rāmāyaṇa</em>, one of the most important texts of premodern India, is missing from general education curriculums in Indian institutions of higher education. Even when the text is taught, it is largely as an expression of Hindu values rather than as a contribution to world literature.</p> <p>Instead of being taught as a literary text, the epic is made to serve agendas promoting violence. The pattern began in 1992 with the destruction of Babri Masjid, a mosque constructed in 1527 by the first Mughal emperor (Babur), and currently regarded by Hindu fundamentalists as the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram, the epic’s protagonist. The initial violence leading to the destruction of the mosque was followed by riots in Gujarat and Mumbai that resulted in the deaths of many thousands of Muslims. Less violently if no less ideologically, the national discomfort with the<em> Rāmāyaṇa </em>as a literary text erupted in 2011, when Delhi University’s academic council <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-15347430">voted to remove</a> A. K. Ramanujan’s essay, “<a href="http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft3j49n8h7&amp;chunk.id=d0e1254&amp;toc.depth=1&amp;toc.id=d0e1254&amp;brand=ucpress">Three Hundred Rāmāyaṇas</a>” (1991), from its undergraduate history curriculum. </p> <p>While Ramanujan’s poetic reflection on the epic’s diverse legacies received the bulk of the negative attention, those who advocated for its removal were really objecting to what Vinay Dharwadker has called “<a href="http://www.mlajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1632/pmla.2012.127.3.433">the actual history of the story of Rama in the world</a>.” The academic council’s vote exposed a nationalist discomfort with the many retellings of the <em>Rāmāyaṇa</em> story in Balinese, Bengali, Cambodian, Chinese, Gujarati, Javanese, Kannada, Kashmiri, Khotanese, Laotian, Malaysian, Marathi, Oriya, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Santali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, and Tibetan, each of which represents Ram differently, and less reverently, than in the modern Hindu imagination. The <em>Rāmāyaṇa</em>’s tumultuous life in contemporary India is a case study in how an epic that has inspired more retellings in more languages than any other work in world literature can be domesticated for narrowly nationalist and sectarian ends, and how institutions of higher education can be complicit in that process. </p> <p>Mehta’s vision of institutions of undergraduate education as places where foundational texts that are underappreciated and misapprehended by their own cultures can be taught as works that speak to a global humanity crystalized for me the importance of the Yale-NUS initiative. His remark helped me to see how, in creating something very old, those of us involved in the creation of this college are also creating something new. Even though many of the works in the year-long Literature Humanities course we are currently designing have originated in forgotten times and places, these texts will teach students about ethics, love, passion, freedom, and the basic liberal arts imperative to follow one’s dreams. </p> <p>While right-wing Indian politicians seek to purge the <em>Rāmāyaṇa</em> of its non-Hindu content, the Yale-NUS curriculum aims to highlight the text’s literary heterodoxy. More broadly, our curriculum suggests that most powerful literary texts call on readers to question normative distributions of power, including those governing the world today. Alongside the <em>Rāmāyaṇa</em>’s exposé of the paradoxes of kingship in an inconstant world, our literature curriculum examines Odysseus’ wanderings, Don Quixote’s quest to resurrect a dying civilization, Medea’s attack on women’s oppression, the inversions of gender and sexuality that drive a Persian retelling of the Biblical narrative of Joseph, the descent to madness in Lu Xun’s modernist short stories, and the double-edged critique of colonialism in Tayeb Salih’s <em>A Season of Migration to the North</em>. </p> <p>Notwithstanding their diversity, these works from India, Africa, China, Afghanistan, and ancient Greece resonate across the boundaries of culture, language, nation, and religion that all too commonly divide literatures from each other. </p> <p>The goal of the curriculum planning that the Literature Humanities committee has been engaged in since July of this year is not simply to revise the literary canon. At least as importantly, we want to revise the meaning of literature in students’ everyday lives. Beyond simply reading texts closely and passionately, we want students to <em>live</em> them, to read works originating in distant and unfamiliar places and which speak of value systems they have not yet encountered in the belief - shared by many of my colleagues - that such texts can transform some portion, if not the entirety, of our lives.</p> <p>Are these goals too lofty to be realized? Will students be left in limbo, lacking marketable skills and direct paths to lucrative salaries after graduation? A recent correspondent helped me to answer these questions for myself. A student at a Singaporean junior college (the term assigned to pre-college institutions comparable to high schools in the United States) wrote me to ask what she had to do in order to read Dostoevsky in the original. She was worried that such a feat would not be possible, given the limited exposure to Russian available to her in Singapore’s institutions of higher education.</p> <p>Notwithstanding its importance for literary history, Russian is not currently offered at Singapore’s most prestigious university, the National University of Singapore. Nor are copies of his novels available in the university’s library in their original language. The language of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy is not regarded as a strategic language on the order of English, Japanese, and Chinese, in all of which the state has invested its resources. But this student was not going to allow her reading options to be constrained by the state’s political priorities. Dostoevsky spoke to her of the meaning of existence, as he did to me when I first entered college and decided to major in Russian literature, without having the slightest idea of how this choice might translate into a career. For this young Singaporean student, Dostoevsky’s poetic power trumped the more pragmatic attractions of strategic languages. </p> <p>Thankfully, Russian is no longer a language of empire. But even while its strategic value has plummeted, Dostoevsky still changes lives. This courage to think beyond the present and to work towards richer and more aesthetically diverse habits of mind are the values that a liberal arts education seeks to cultivate. For my young correspondent, Yale-NUS symbolized the kind of education she had dreamed of having, but which had remained out of reach to her in Singapore. Our core curriculum aims to make this kind of education - which places human values above cost-benefit analysis - available to students who otherwise may never have encountered it. </p> <p>Given the potential long term impact of our mandate to reinvent the liberal arts in Asia on the way the humanities are taught at the undergraduate level throughout the world, it is surprising that the curricular planning work Yale-NUS faculty have been intensively engaged in for the past few months has received so little attention from media outlets eager to speculate on restrictions to academic freedom in Singapore. The <em><a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303933704577530524046581142.html">Wall Street Journal</a></em>, the <em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/27/world/asia/27iht-educlede27.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=0">New York Times</a></em>, <em><a href="http://world.time.com/2012/07/20/yale-draws-flak-for-its-singapore-adventure/">Time</a></em>, <a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/07/19/singapore-yale-curtail-rights-new-campus">Human Rights Watch</a>, <a href="http://yaleamnesty.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/endorsing-political-repression-the-yale-nus-venture/">Amnesty International</a>, and the <a href="http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/newsroom/2012webhighlight/Yalelet.htm">Association of American University Professors</a> &nbsp;have all raised questions about the state of political life in Singapore. What none of these venues or organizations have paid attention to are the cultural norms that determine the shape of politics in more profound and lasting ways than programmatic statements. Education is the most important aspect of this cultural training, and this is why the bulk of my energies have been focused on creating a core curriculum that will advance academic freedom, in the broadest and richest possible sense of that term. </p> <p>Far from wishing to sidestep the question of academic freedom in Singapore, I want to draw attention to complex conditions through which - if it is to make an historical difference - this ideal must be realized in the context of actual human lives. A public’s reading practices are an excellent measurement of the extent of that society’s democracy. An educated and informed populace, capable of patient reflection, courageous enough to think outside the status quo, and stimulated by critical empathy for people who do not resemble themselves, is the sine qua non of a robust civil society. By this standard, the much-vaunted North American public sphere appears sorely lacking. </p> <p>I want Singaporeans of the future to do a better job at making democracy a reality than America’s elected leaders have done for the past half-century. I want a Singaporean public sphere that does not labour under the curious divide that marks American political life between an occasionally activist and otherwise inconsequential leftist academia and a conservative and largely apathetic and unreflective majority. This is the task this Yale-NUS faculty member has set herself: to enrich and inspire Singaporean ways of thinking, in the hopes that some of this energy will radiate back to the United States. I personally believe that the most effective way of advancing academic freedom over the longue durée is through texts, ideas, and education rather than by monopolizing the national media’s five-minute attention span.</p> <p>The compartmentalization of ethical values and practical politics has proven to be a major failing of American higher education, as well as a simulacrum of all that ails the American public sphere. In the United States, high-caliber research is abundant, but has little impact on society at large, which is frequently skeptical of the ultimate value of intellectual inquiry. As I noted when I argued last year against <a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/10/17/essay_on_flawed_logic_of_making_decisions_based_on_enrollment_in_courses">&nbsp;the enrollment craze</a> that is currently impoverishing US public education, the liberal arts are all too often regarded as the most expendable element in public university curriculums. A liberal arts curriculum recalibrated for the twenty-first century and compelled by its geographic location to engage a global world is well-positioned to move beyond this impasse. </p> <p>Good readers make better human beings. They also make better thinkers, listeners, and leaders. Pace Dostoevsky, beauty will not save the world. But students who have learned to engage with humanistic knowledge will be well-prepared to craft a world less susceptible to the warmongering politics that has historically shaped public discourse in the world’s oldest democracies. If it fulfils its mission, the Yale-NUS initiative will advance the cause of academic freedom by delinking a global ideal from one particular geography. It may also help us realize a world where the Rāmāyaṇa can be taught in any language, anywhere.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/josh-booth/yale-singapore-and-power-of-university">Yale, Singapore and the power of a university</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/jim-sleeper/significance-of-resignation-of-yales-president">The significance of the resignation of Yale&#039;s President</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/jim-sleeper/how-yale-becomes-more-confucian-rather-than-singapore-more-civic-republican">How Yale becomes more Confucian, rather than Singapore more civic-republican</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/jim-sleeper/yales-singaporean-adventure-victory-for-ideals-of-republic">Yale&#039;s Singaporean adventure - a victory for the ideals of the republic?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Singapore </div> <div class="field-item even"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Singapore </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> openIndia Singapore United States Singapore Civil society Culture Ideas literature Culture & society Rebecca Gould Sun, 16 Dec 2012 22:55:19 +0000 Rebecca Gould 69934 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Felon voting rights and democracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/rebecca-gould/felon-voting-rights-and-democracy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Convicted felons continue to be barred from voting in the US, with severe consequences for their rehabilitation and the democratic process. An effective campaign for their re-enfranchisement is vital, argues Rebecca Gould.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Default">A debate is raging in Washington State concerning the legitimacy of denying voting rights to felons. The <em><a href="http://www.seattlepi.com/opinion/400210_voterightsed.html">Seattle Post-Intelligencer</a></em> has published several editorials over the course of the past few years insisting on the right of felons to participate in the political process. The <em>Seattle Post-Intelligencer</em> editorial board agrees with the ruling of the Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander that society “should encourage rather than discourage felons to rehabilitate themselves.” Although the judicial branch of government at both the state and national levels commonly supports felon voting rights, legislators, who for the most part do not support felon voting rights, have more influence than judges on the everyday ramifications of felon disenfranchisement. To overturn felon disenfranchisement, then, a massive education effort is needed, targeted at the American public. Americans should be made to reflect on the practical consequences of felon disenfranchisement as well as on its implications for democratic governance. They should be encouraged  to elect legislators who will not campaign for discriminatory voting practices.</p><iframe src="http://rcm-uk.amazon.co.uk/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&npa=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=opendemocra0e-21&o=2&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=0M5A6TN3AXP2JHJBWT02&asins=0195149327" style="width:120px;height:200px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0" align="right"></iframe> <p class="Default">According to Manza and Unger in <em>Locked out: felon disenfranchisement and American democracy </em>(Oxford University Press, 2006), 5.4 million Americans, amounting to one in every forty voting-age adults, is currently barred from voting due to a felon conviction. Allard and Mauer demonstrate in <em><a href="http://www.sentencingproject.org/detail/publication.cfm?publication_id=22">Regaining the vote: an assessment of activity relating to felon disenfranchisement laws</a></em> (The Sentencing Project, 2000), that 5.4 million Americans translates into thirteen percent of all African-American males, seven times the national average.</p><p class="Default">America is not the only democracy in the world that prohibits felons from voting after parole (even more polities forbid voting for felons on parole), but it applies the principle of felon disenfranchisement more severely than any other democracy in the world. America’s per capita incarceration rates are the highest in the world, and disproportionately higher for African-Americans and Latinos. These laws contribute to an array of gratuitous punishments that serve no practical function other than to consolidate the power of the already powerful. While a few active and articulate organizations, such as The Sentencing Project, <a href="http://demos.org/issue.cfm?e=Felon%5FDisfranchisement">Unlock the Block, DEMOS</a>, <a href='http://www.brennancenter.org/"'>The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU</a>, <a href="http://www.soros.org/initiatives/usprograms/focus/justice/events/disenfranchise_20060620/speakers">Soros Open Society Institute</a>, and <a href="http://www.hrw.org/en/united-states">Human Rights Watch</a>, have documented how felon disenfranchisement builds on a legacy of racial profiling and class prejudice, and actively contributes to social inequality, few have drawn attention to the core principles at stake in the issue of felon disenfranchisement, or to the inherent contradiction between felon disenfranchisement and democracy.</p><p class="Default">No doubt because activists are justifiably interested in yielding immediate result, the majority of work on felon disenfranchisement has thus far pursued various versions of the ‘applied justice’ argument. But the overwhelming emphasis on pragmatics over ethics in discussions of felon disenfranchisement cedes too much to those who prefer discriminatory governance to true human equality. Felon disenfranchisement should not have to be debated solely on pragmatic grounds when there are more fundamental and non-pragmatic issues at stake. At best, pragmatics is a means of arriving at the more powerful realization that felon disenfranchisement, whether socially useful or socially harmful, inhibits democracy.</p><p class="Default">To a no lesser extent than capital punishment, felon disenfranchisement deserves to be debated on ethical and not solely pragmatic grounds. Any society that legislates behavior-based restrictions on the right of franchise is guilty of undemocratic penal practices. Even if it could be demonstrated statistically that felon disenfranchisement increases crime—and there is nothing to warrant such an assertion—it would still be anti-democratic to extend the right to vote to some while withholding it to others. In a democracy, our right to vote is not contingent on our being good citizens or obeying the law. Rather, <em>voting is the condition for our obedience to the law</em>. The fact that we vote enables the state to legitimately insist on our obedience to its laws, provided  that democratic theory approximate political practice. In a polity wherein citizens are forbidden to vote, the state has no right to expect such obedience. Felon disenfranchisement of itself violates the logic of the democratic state. If democracy is an ethical endeavor and not only a pragmatic strategy, then we are well-advised to take account of the basic legal and philosophical issues at stake in felon disenfranchisement, which have less to do directly with crime reduction than with the foundation of democracy as such: popular representation.</p><p class="Default">It goes without saying that the theoretical justification for requiring obedience to society’s laws from all citizens often does not work out as it should in practice. Elections and campaigns are more often than not corrupted by greed. Choosing among several inadequate candidates is often less than satisfying, and voter participation is low among fully qualified voters. But at least democratic social theory<em>attempts</em> to justify the demand for legal obedience. At least we possess an ethical ideal for this form of political being. At least a citizen is asked to obey laws not because the elite demands obedience but because the laws are perceived to derive (indirectly) from the will of the people. No matter how imperfect its application, the ideal of a democratic polity deserves our admiration. And yet all these ideals are utterly discarded by policymakers and the citizenry alike when it comes to felon disenfranchisement. Suddenly, democratic ideals are perceived to be incapable of insuring a society’s security, and the right to vote, to participate actively in one’s own polity, is demoted to a mere privilege granted on basis of good behavior and economic prosperity rather than a basic human right.</p><p class="Default">A polity that legislates restrictive voting does not fulfill the basic criterion for popular representation. It might be objected that felons are not the only people excluded by voting laws; citizens younger than eighteen are also forbidden from casting their ballot. The major difference between a child and a felon is that the child looks forward to voting someday. He or she can anticipate eventually having access to full political participation. In polities where permanent felon disenfranchisement is the norm, the felon by contrast is barred from political participation. To felon has nothing to look forward to in such a polity, and lacks any hope of ever being fully integrated into this society. It is not undemocratic to temporarily forbid someone from voting in the expectation that they will eventually be eligible. The voting rights of minors are a pragmatic issue that can be debated in terms of the age at which a minor is capable of making intelligent political choices. Felon disenfranchisement is different; firstly because it is often permanent; secondly because it makes the right to vote contingent on one’s obedience to the law, whereas in a true democracy one’s duty to obey the law is contingent on one’s right to vote. When the first criterion, the right to vote, is missing, its presumed consequence, the duty to obey the law, is called into question from the vantage point of legal theory.</p><p class="Default">It is undemocratic to permanently bar any citizen, no matter how heinous his or her crime, from political participation in society at large. A government of the people departs from democracy when it bars felons from voting. The polity that practices such discrimination has no legal right to insist on obedience to its laws, inasmuch as a felon barred from voting is not subject to laws that require the consent of the governed. Forbidding the felon to vote makes of his or her consent a dead issue. A polity that does not ask for the consent of the governed is not a democracy. According to social contract theory, it is legitimate for a state to demand obedience from its citizens, because these citizens exist in a reciprocal relationship with their rulers and actively contribute to the creation of society’s laws. Felon disenfranchisement violates this reciprocal relationship and makes a mockery of the concept of popular representation.</p><p class="Default">Felon disenfranchisement is not only practically ineffective at deterring crime. It is itself a crime. It is a crime to imprison citizens according to the implicit terms of a social contract and then to deny to them the right to intervene in that contract and to contest its terms through voting. The political right to vote is logically prior to duty to obey the laws of the society within which one is voting. If a citizen is denied the franchise, he or she has no obligation to obey the laws of that society. According to classical social contract theory, any violation of the legal code of a society which unequally distributes the franchise cannot properly be understood to be a crime, because the category “crime” presumes that one violates a set of mutually agreed upon rules. When felon disenfranchisement is accepted as a normative mode of governance, this effectively means that people are being punished for violating laws it was not their legal duty to obey.</p><p class="Default">No law can be legitimately issued by a polity that administers the right to vote in a discriminatory manner. Felon disenfranchisement impedes not only just punishments; it also calls into question the internal coherence of criminal law within a democracy. A prisoner in a polity that practices felon disenfranchisement may have violated ethical norms, but to call this person a felon, which is a legal category, the law must be applied democratically. In the absence of an internally coherent policy for the administration, we have no way to distinguish between a political dissident and a violent offender for the purposes of criminal law; everyday criminals become political dissidents and political dissidents become everyday criminals. It is in the interest of justice to keep these distinctions intact. Felon disenfranchisement is the greatest obstacle to the internal cogency of American criminal law.</p><p class="Default">For a democracy to be a democracy, all citizens must have the right to vote. (In the case of minors, they must have these rights potentially, in their future.) This perspective is as old as Plato’s <em><a href="http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.html">Republic</a></em> and Aristotle’s <em><a href="http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/politics.html">Politics</a></em>. For the political theorists of antiquity, democracy, though not the ideal form of government, presumed the political participation of all of its citizens. There are two obvious senses in which the Greek ideal is inadequate for us today. Firstly, we know that the Platonic and Aristotelian concepts of citizenship excluded women and slaves, and even made the possession of slaves a necessary prerequisite to the attainment of citizenship. The modern democratic ideal, by contrast, requires that citizenship be extended more broadly, and not be parceled out along lines of gender or racial or class origin. The modern argument with the ancient Greek theorists is less over the principle of democracy than over the principle of citizenship, and to whom it should apply. Secondly, Plato and Aristotle prescribed democracy only for societies that today would barely qualify for “village” status, and we know that such an ideal is impossible today for nearly all political entities.</p><p class="Default">In spite of their attachments to social hierarchies rejected by modern democratic social theory, both Aristotle and Plato understood that democracy is incompatible with the institutional disenfranchisement of citizens. They did not assume, as many do today, that one earns the right to vote through good behavior. To the contrary, the citizen behaves well because he (always only he) possess the right to vote, and can therefore he held to highest of standards. Life in a free society makes one a better person, not the other way around. The citizen’s selfhood is realized within the polis, and most perfectly in the act of voting. One does not ask to be rewarded by the state for good behavior by being granted already-inalienable rights.  As indicated above, neither Plato nor Aristotle would have maintained that the values pertinent to the citizenry should be universally applied to every human being, but at least they articulated the basic principles of political life, and the motivation for responsible citizenship.</p><p class="Default">Felon disenfranchisement is not only an issue of crime reduction. It is a question concerning democracy. This point is worth stressing because even political conservatives, and even those opposed to or uninspired by social justice movements, ought to be able to recognize the fundamental inconsistency between democratic values and felon disenfranchisement. Framing the felon disenfranchisement debate as a non-partisan issue—as a question concerning democracy rather than crime reduction—will ultimately make it more acceptable to society at large, and help activists, scholars, and prisoners win the battle for its annulment.</p><p class="Default">As someone who had been at the receiving end of domestic violence, I am glad I had the option of calling the police to take my husband to prison for his violent crimes. I am glad there are prisons for people who endanger the lives of others. When they uphold democratic principles, penal regulations play a vital role in promoting the social good. But in order for penal regulations  to serve society, rather than the ruling elite, criminal law should not intensify already existing hierarchies between the haves and the have-nots.</p><p class="Default">It should not take a prison rights activist to see that permanent felon disenfranchisement for most classes of felons, now practiced by eighteen states, needs to be overturned at the national level. The states currently practicing permanent disenfranchisement for felons are Arizona, Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, South Dakota, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia, Alabama, Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, Washington, and Wyoming. A federal initiative is needed to take felon disenfranchisement away from the discretion of these states. Curtailments to felons’ right to participate in the political process are too basic an instance of anti-democratic legislation to be decided locally, or on a case-by-case basis.</p><p class="Default">Just as Jim Crow laws were overturned in the 1960s, and just as they were at the time supported by many legislatures at the state level who had no problem with the idea of “separate but equal” status, so too today discriminatory voting laws need to be overturned across the country and without restrictions. What would happen to American politics if 5.4 million felons were suddenly granted the right to vote? For one thing, George Bush might not have been elected in 2004. The great oil war might not have dragged on for so many years. A polity whose rulers decide who can and cannot vote is liable to become an oligarchy that exists only to serve the interests of those already in power.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> United States Democracy and government Civil society Drug & Criminal Justice Policy Forum Rebecca Gould Wed, 28 Jul 2010 13:29:41 +0000 Rebecca Gould 55330 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Rebecca Gould https://www.opendemocracy.net/author-profile/rebecca-gould <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Rebecca Gould </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-firstname"> <div class="field-label">First name(s):&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Rebecca </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-surname"> <div class="field-label">Surname:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Gould </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Singapore </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-country"> <div class="field-label">Country:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Singapore </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://rrgould.hcommons.org/" target="_blank">Rebecca Ruth Gould</a>&nbsp;is&nbsp;<a href="https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/languages/gould-rebecca.aspx" target="_blank">Professor, Islamic World and Comparative Literature</a>&nbsp;at the University of Birmingham. She is the author of&nbsp;<em><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Writers-Rebels-Literature-Insurgency-Caucasus/dp/0300200641" target="_blank">Writers and Rebels: The Literatures of Insurgency in the Caucasus</a>&nbsp;</em>and director&nbsp;of the ERC-funded project, "<a href="https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/lcahm/departments/languages/research/projects/globallit/index.aspx" target="_blank">Global Literary Theory.</a>" She is on Twitter @rrgould.</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Rebecca Gould is a Reader in Comparative Literature at the University of Bristol. She is the author of Writers and Rebels: The Literatures of Insurgency in the Caucasus and the translator of After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Ghazals and Other Poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi and The Prose of the Mountains: Tales of the Caucasus. Find her on Twitter @rrgould. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-organisation"> <div class="field-label">Organisation:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="http://www.yale-nus.edu.sg/" class="org organization-name">Yale-NUS College</a> </div> </div> </div> Rebecca Gould Tue, 27 Jul 2010 13:47:35 +0000 Rebecca Gould 55332 at https://www.opendemocracy.net